One metric in the Pentagon's quest for a deeper military-to-military engagement with countries is their willingness to post permanent “liaison officers” at the headquarters of specified U.S. command centres. India is “covered” by the American military's Pacific Command (PACOM) based in Hawaii. Pakistan and points west fall under the “jurisdiction” of the Florida-based Central Command (CENTCOM).
Since 2002, the U.S. has been suggesting that India station an officer at PACOM to facilitate better communication. While not rejecting the idea, the National Democratic Alliance government of Atal Bihari Vajpayee suggested that India would rather work with CENTCOM. The Hawaii offer was repeated by PACOM commander William Fallon during his visit to India in April 2005 and followed up within days by Assistant Secretary of State for South Asia Christina Rocca and the U.S. Charge d'Affaires in a meeting with Ministry of External Affairs Joint Secretary S. Jaishankar in New Delhi. “In response to Charge's reminder of CINCPAC ADM Fallon's invitation for an Indian liaison officer (LNO) to PACOM, Jaishankar asked if the US would also host an LNO at CENTCOM. He argued that many areas of Indian concern are west of the PACOM/CENTCOM divide, and that a relationship with CENTCOM would be helpful if India is to provide training in Iraq in the future. If both are possible, he added, it would be good to seek approval from the Indian system at one go.”
The Americans, who had heard this argument before, were not buying it. “A/S Rocca reiterated her recommendation that relevant CENTCOM visitors to the region should consider visiting Delhi as well, but urged Jaishankar to focus first on getting an LNO to PACOM first, and not tie it to a similar request to CENTCOM,” a cable dated April 19, 2005, quotes her as saying (31045: confidential).
Six years on, India has yet to post an LNO to PACOM or CENTCOM, with senior officials saying the country is not really looking at a military relationship of the kind where an officer needs to liaise directly with U.S. commands.
Another U.S. proposal India was lukewarm about was a hotline between the Pentagon and the Ministry of Defence. The offer was first made when Secretary of Defense Robert Gates met Defence Minister A.K. Antony in New Delhi in February 2008. During a follow-up meeting with Mr. Antony in May 2008, Ambassador David C. Mulford handed over a draft Memorandum of Understanding for “a dedicated Defense Telephone Line (DTL) between the U.S. and India. “Antony took the MOU … suggesting he would consider it and offer a substantive response once he has had the opportunity to review it,” a cable dated May 16, 2008, notes (154212: secret).
In the same meeting, Mr. Mulford sought clarity on what India really thought about the bilateral and multilateral naval exercises held in recent years. The Ambassador “explained that lately the USG has received mixed signals from the GOI on India's willingness to be seen with us, such as when Antony expressed surprise at the USS Cole being involved in a recent port visit, and the media not being allowed to cover the Cole's community relations events.”
The Raksha Mantri responded: “India is a complex democracy, with various parliamentary committees and political parties with competing interests. So while the Ministry of Defense welcomes the exercises themselves, political tensions can dictate that the events receive less visibility than we may want. ‘We don't want to create a political controversy by proceeding in a high profile manner,' he reasoned, adding ‘we have no problem with the exercises as such, but how to highlight them can be a problem.'”
The Ambassador's conclusion on this: “Exercises welcomed, publicity may be not.”
As for the hotline to the Pentagon, senior Indian officials told The Hindu the offer was eventually turned down. “It's one thing to have a dedicated phone link as a confidence building measure with a country that one has a difficult relationship with. But this kind of hotline would be different. We are not looking at [a] relationship where the two Ministers need to constantly be in touch.”
(This article is a part of the series "The India Cables" based on the US diplomatic cables accessed by The Hindu via Wikileaks.)